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Ergot Poisoning: A Forage-Related Animal Disorder

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As I mentioned in my earlier writings, animal disorders may result from toxic substances or mineral imbalances in forges and weeds consumed by livestock. As a result, reduced animal productivity, such as visible symptoms of ill health or even death of grazing animals, may occur.

Ergot poisoning is an important forage-related animal disorder. This can cause a problem in cattle grazing pastures dominating by certain forage grain crops and grasses. Ergot poisoning is caused by a parasitic fungus. The fungus generally grows in the seed heads of small grains and grasses, such as ryegrass.

The fungus, ergot, produces toxin, which interferes with blood circulation and results in reduced blood flow to parts of the limbs and tail. The earliest symptom of ergot poisoning is lameness with sloughing of the tail tip. Sloughing can also occur in ear tips and hooves. 

If cattle continue to be exposed to the ergot, this symptom may extend to cattle feet. Other symptoms from ergot poisoning are depression and stimulation of the central nervous system, high respiratory function, increased pulse rate and high or increased body temperature.

Now the question is, what are the remedies of ergot poisoning? The first thing is to stop cattle grazing from seed heads of forage crops. 

As ergot grows in the seed heads, reducing of seed head production significantly decreases the ergot poisoning. Early clipping and/or grazing of pastures can reduce the danger of ergot poisoning by limiting the seed head growth, development and production. 

If symptoms of ergot poisoning is observed, cattle need to be moved to an ergot-free diet.

Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or

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